By: Geoffrey Riddle

The Emirates Racing Authority (ERA) remains vigilant to the threat of the use of cobalt after five horses from three high-profile trainers in Australia were found to have prohibited levels of the performance-enhancing drug in their systems.

It was revealed last week that Lidari, trained by Black Caviar’s handler Peter Moody, tested positive after the Turnbull Stakes at Flemington in ­October.

Mark Kavanagh, who won the Melbourne Cup with Shocking in 2009, is also under the microscope after Migicool returned a positive urine sample at the same race meeting.

Trainer Danny O’Brien had three horses – Caravan Rolls On, Bondeiger and De Little Engine – all return positive tests for three separate races in ­November.

When used at elevated levels cobalt can stimulate red blood cell production, which allows horses to perform at a peak for longer before the onset of fatigue. It can work in a similar manner to the effects of EPO.

Threshold levels of cobalt in thoroughbreds occur naturally at trace levels. In Hong Kong, the threshold level for testing is 100 microgrammes, while in Australia it is 200.

Racing Victoria has declined to reveal what level the five horses returned in their tests, but investigations are looking at the question of how the horses were administered cobalt.

Australian racing relies only on urine testing for cobalt and is investigating how quickly it can parachute in blood testing, which yesterday was believed to be in line for early March.

The ERA are ahead of the game in this regard and samples this season have been tested at the Hong Kong Jockey Club racing laboratory.

“The Emirates Racing Authority have been survey testing for cobalt in both urine and blood samples for thoroughbreds and Purebred Arabian horses since January 2014,” Andrew Holmes, the ERA spokesperson, said.

“The ERA is confident from the results obtained thus far that cobalt treatment abuse is not prevalent in UAE racing.

“However, surveillance and testing will continue to monitor both race day and non-race day levels of cobalt while recognised international threshold levels are established.”

In December 2013, Harness Racing in New South Wales became the first body to introduce a ban.

Harness racing is particularly susceptible to cobalt use as horses run at a steady pace throughout.

Racing Victoria imposed a ban in April last year and the Australian Rules of Racing adopted the threshold in January.

“No samples collected by the ERA in this survey have approached the suggested cobalt threshold level in urine as legislated in Australia, nor the suggested threshold blood level indicated from testing in Hong Kong,” Holmes said.

“It has been actively providing samples and data to an international collaboration on cobalt for setting up a threshold value with other laboratories in association with laboratories in Australia, UK, France, Hong Kong and the USA.”